Well. The time has come.
I'm home. Not Thailand home. Not even Maine home. Home home. Instead of walking through the gritty streets and sweltering heat that I have grown to love, I am now surrounded by soybean planting, lawn mowing and more rainy days than I would care for. I have to drive my car to and fro, and I can't afford to fill my tank. I miss sticky rice, pad phak jay, and yes, even my corner 7/11 store. I find myself instinctively wai-ing when saying thank-you, which people find either amusing or just plain awkward.
It has been a month since my triumphant return to the Minnesota River Valley. Living with my family again for the first time in four years has been a culture shock in and of itself. Hearing only my mother tongue has been more difficult to get used to than it has in the past. My sense of anonymity has been replaced by a constant fear of running into people and forced into small talk - a conversational talent which now eludes me.
"Stayin' out of trouble?"
"Say, where were you again?"
"I was in Thailand. It sure was hot over there!!"
"So, I bet you can speak Taiwanese now, right?"
(shift awkwardly, trying to come up with a tactful answer) "Not as much as I'd like, but I a little!"
"Well, welcome home. You haven't changed a bit!"
The conversation usually comes to a grinding halt right there, but I hope that I am becoming more graceful handling such situations. Thankfully, I've come to realize “not changing a bit” is, for the most part, meant as a compliment. Hey - maybe I still look like a fresh faced 23 year-old right out of college! Nah - that can't be it. Maybe I've been away from home (home home) too long, and now I'm having trouble reconnecting. That’s certainly possible.
What I’d LIKE to think though, is that although I've grown and evolved during my year away, I think that I've been able to retain much of what makes me ‘me’...whatever THAT is. And that's what I'm hoping my long lost pals have been noticing. And at the end of the cold, rainy and socially awkward day, that’s really not such a bad deal after all.
As for the small talk, I’m sure I’ll be Chatty Cathy again before we know it. Let’s all just appreciate the silence for now. ;)